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Zoonoses and Medicine as Social Science: Implications of Rudolf Virchow’s Work for Understanding Global Pandemics

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The Viral Politics of Covid-19

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Abstract

The current COVID-19 crisis has brought to the forefront the ways in which our proximity to non-human organisms and our biological exchanges with them are central to human health. It has also made clear that pandemics have different consequences depending largely on social disparities and conditions of inequality in different geographical contexts. These insights are not new. They were already present in the work of the German physician Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902). In this chapter, we review Virchow’s contributions to medicine and argue that at the root of his thinking is a deep commitment to a holistic and multifactorial understanding of disease that acknowledges not only biological but also social and political processes. Furthermore, from this commitment to a social understanding of disease stems a particular picture of the role of physicians, as uniquely well-placed to grapple with this multiplicity of factors. To Virchow, a social understanding of health implies improving the conditions of human life, as well as closely attending to the conditions of non-human life, both crucial elements in curing and preventing diseases. Virchow’s famous slogan ‘medicine is a social science’ finds fresh relevance amid difficult conversations surrounding economic and racial disparities in the context of COVID-19.

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Nieves Delgado, A., Chellappoo, A. (2022). Zoonoses and Medicine as Social Science: Implications of Rudolf Virchow’s Work for Understanding Global Pandemics. In: Lemm, V., Vatter, M. (eds) The Viral Politics of Covid-19. Biolegalities. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-3942-6_5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-3942-6_5

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